About The Canterbury Tales


Other collections of tales existed before Chaucer's, the most famous being Boccaccio's Decameron, in which three young lords and seven young ladies agree to tell tales while they stay in a country villa to avoid the plague that is ravaging the cities. Because each of Boccaccio's narrators belongs to the same high social class, the Decameron tales are similar in their sophistication.

Chaucer, however, came up with the ingenuous literary device of having a pilgrimage, a technique that allowed him to bring together a diverse group of people. Thus Chaucer's narrators represent a wide spectrum of society with various ranks and occupations. From the distinguished and noble Knight, we descend through the pious abbess (the Prioress), the honorable Clerk, the rich landowner (the Franklin), the worldly and crude Wife, and on down the scale to the low, vulgar Miller and Carpenter, and the corrupt Pardoner.

Aside from the high literary standard of The Canterbury Tales, the work stands as a historical and sociological introduction to the life and times of the late Middle Ages. During Chaucer's time, regardless how brilliant and talented one might be, there was no way for a commoner to move from his class into the aristocracy. Chaucer, however, made that leap as well as anyone could. As a commoner, he was familiar with and was accepted by the lower classes as well as by the higher classes; thus, throughout his life, he was able to observe both the highest and the lowest, and his gifted mind made the best of these opportunities.

Chaucer's genius at understanding basic human nature made him the great poet he was. He knew the world from many aspects, and he loved most of his characters. The mature adult would find it difficult not to like such characters as The Wife of Bath, even with all her bawdiness, or the Miller with his vulgarity that amuses rather than offends sophisticated readers. Chaucer presents the world as he sees it, and he shares one quality with all great writers: He is a delight to read.